How Much for That Doggie in the Cubicle?

I’m sorry you’ve had such a rough go of it and hope your situation improves, and quickly. We are in a pandemic. Nothing is normal, and employers have to recognize that their employees are human beings in human bodies.

The proliferation of Zoom since the start of the pandemic seems to have also ushered in unwelcome comments about my appearance. I was told by one male colleague that I should try to bring more “energy” when I’m on video calls — despite feeling completely exhausted, in the middle of a global pandemic, and trying my best to remain sane while I attempt to help my school-age kids tackle the challenges of remote learning. A year later, I’m on another call, at a different company, and the first thing another male colleague says is that I look too “serious” when I’m on video calls.

In both of these cases, I did not know either man very well, nor had I worked with either of them for very long. In both instances, I felt too caught off guard to respond in the moment. However, I did write a follow-up email to the first man to explain that I felt like his comments were unwarranted and unfair given the state of the world at the time.

In the unfortunate event that this happens again, what should I say to indicate that these types of comments are not OK?

— Anonymous, Washington

The polite response:

“I invite you to stop commenting on my appearance immediately. It’s none of your concern and has nothing to do with our work together.”

The less polite response is to repeat what they said right back to them but turned up a notch. For example, if they remark that you look tired, tell them they look haggard. They’ll get the message, eventually.

I recently attended a conference that took place a 90-minute drive away. My co-worker and I agreed to split the driving. She drove first, and told me how sensitive she was about her driving skills and how she’d gotten formally reprimanded by our boss years ago. As we got onto the interstate, I understood why. She drove like an absolute maniac. We were in the 90s, weaving in and out of lanes, and at one point she pulled out her phone, at which point I said she needed to focus on the road.

That remark made her very, very unhappy (though she did put the phone down). She is originally from another country where the driving habits may be different, but I felt genuinely fearful for my life. But I also felt worried about poisoning our work relationship and possibly jeopardizing her job.

Aside from taking over all driving duties in the future — which would tire me out and make me very resentful — how can I tell her without hurting her feelings that she drives like someone who seems to want to die?

I drive with a heavy foot but driving at more than 90 m.p.h.? That’s a bit much. Sometimes you have to tell a colleague a difficult truth. You can’t control how your co-worker receives your feedback. I would tactfully tell her that her driving makes you feel unsafe. Note that you would prefer her to drive closer to the speed limit and device-free. She can be sensitive about her driving but she doesn’t have the right to jeopardize your life or the lives of those with whom she shares roadways.

Roxane Gay is the author, most recently, of “Hunger” and a contributing opinion writer. Write to her at

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